EDL in london - pics and report from yesterdayTagged as: edl protest
Neighbourhoods: city whitechapel
despite theresa may's ban on marches, more than a thousand edl supporters arrived in london yesterday for a 'static' demo and many of them were marched to it and marched away from it by a major police operation. meanwhile similar numbers of anti-fascist protestors held a rally and kept a vigil to ensure edl were kept away from asian communities in tower hamlets. read report and pics ...
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with the edl demo called for 3pm, many supporters were arriving in london in time for a liquid lunch, and by 1.30, a crowd of several hundred were chanting slogans and drinking beer outside king's cross station surrounded by a single cordon of police (with many reinforcements waiting nearby). although many were under the canopy, others stood in hot direct sunlight, and as time passed, frustration began to rise, with some arguments with police in the cordon, and a couple of explosive fire-crackers thrown from within the crowd. stewards informed the mob that the police were going to allow them on to a tube to moorgate, but very soon after this announcement, RMT staff drew the shutters across the entrances, telling me (with a mischievous wink) that there had been a fire alarm and that the closure was for 'health and safety' reasons. after about half an hour, someone relented, perhaps under police pressure, and finally the gates were opened and, accompanied by a large number of police, the crowd was shepherded underground.
at moorgate, police were allowing them out slowly in groups of 20 or 30 at a time, and they were directed past FIT photographers, and through empty city streets towards a meeting point in aldgate. some passers-by shouted abuse at them, and police intervened occasionally to keep antagonists apart.
on this procession (but not a 'march'), i felt as though i was in a confused parallel universe. although i had little sympathy with these people's philosophy, i was hearing the very familiar chant of 'whose streets, our streets' from a crowd directed and enclosed by police, and i overheard a conversation proposing that some of the people shouting abuse might be police 'agent provocateurs' trying to elicit a fight response as an excuse for more repression. this experience added to my already strong discomfort at the apparently reasonable calls from the left to 'ban' the edl and/or their marches. more on this later.
meanwhile, i was hearing reports that hundreds more edl were kettled at liverpool street, but the police had set up one of their 'sterile' areas and all i could see were lots of riot cops, along with dogs and horses.
although a large proportion of the crowd fitted the stereotype of white van man/football hooligan/drunken slob, i was surprised to see the occasional asian face (a small group carrying a banner "all races unite against islamic extremism" under an edl logo), and a couple of african-caribbean folk, including a young woman, and even a small jewish section wearing kippahs - the edl must be improving its ability to hide its inherent racist, xenophobic and intolerant roots. less surprising were the occasional sober, suited characters - perhaps the more sinister brains of the outfit.
at the rally point in aldgate, up to a thousand edl eventually arrived. photographers lined up at the front to get their shots of the less camera-shy, more loud-mouthed supporters.
having had my first experience of these folk close up, their apparent stupidity, drunkenness, arrogance, hatred and ugliness began to get to me, and i managed to talk my way through police lines, briefly encountering the 'sterile' area of multiple police lines, horses and dogs, that stood facing back to back between the aldgate crowd and the anti-fascists gathered outside aldgate east tube.
i made my way into whitechapel and found a crowd of many hundreds of anti-fascists facing the police lines at aldgate east, plus another large crowd further up whitechapel, where local councillors were also gathered. my spirits were soon lifted by the friendliness, inclusiveness, articulateness, and goddamit, sexiness of the anti-fascist protestors.
having seen the police operation on the 'dark side' i knew there was little or no chance that any edl would be coming through, but every now and then as police movements sparked rumours, the crowd suddenly rushed north or south to 'confront the fascists', and this led to some scuffles with hastily formed police cordons.
hearing that the edl rally was over, i was interested to see how police intended to disperse them, and i set off south to try and make my way back west. at each junction there were strong cordons, and eventually i was down on the main east smithfield road heading west among stationary gridlocked traffic. at the junction with tower bridge riot police stood in front of the traffic jam, and hundreds of riot police along with dozens of horses presaged a slow procession of hundreds of edl coming south down minories ringed and accompanied by hundreds of cops.
they were then held on the south side of the bridge for a further half an hour or more, while dozens and dozens of police vans hurtled east down tooley street to begin an operation to clear it of traffic. once this was completed, the edl were released through a line of cops and past a FIT photography team and then directed either to coaches nearby, or along tooley street towards london bridge station. a few anarchists and some young asian guys taunted them but were soon moved away by police under threat of arrest.
i heard later that the biggest incident occured later in the day when an edl coach apparently broke down in stepney and arrests followed a clash with local youths. i also heard of edl members attacking photographers earlier and using spraying lighter fluid and setting it alight in one such attack. at the rally, police spotted edl bigwig stephen yaxley-lennon (aka tommy robinson) who was breaching bail conditions, and they led him away, causing some scuffles and more fire-cracker throws, although he was later released.
at the end of the day, the anti-fascists claimed they had kept the edl out of tower hamlets, the police claimed they had facilitated peaceful protest with proportionate policing and relatively few incidents and arrests, and the edl claimed that they haf defied a ban and mounted a major demonstration in london.
returning to my earlier point. are calls to ban marches, or indeed the whole edl or bnp organisation, ill-conceived?
some people, who would generally defend the rights to protest, to freely assemble, and the right to freedom of expression, seem able to draw the line when it comes to the edl, with a simple and persuasive argument that this group is fascist. but can we create a dividing line in universal rights, and when we do, don't we fall right into a simple trap laid by the real puppet-masters, who will use the very same exceptions against us? we've seen a taste of that already with much of the 30-day ban on marches in five london boroughs still to come, along with the frightening precedent of two london-wide section 60s in a week. with dsei coming next week, we'll see whether that ban, originally called for the edl, ends up being used against us.
also, having seen the edl turn-out up close, i'm of the opinion that the cold light of exposure is a good thing, and that bans deprive the public of the opportunity to see what these people are really like. they weren't a particularly attractive bunch, neither physically, intellectually, nor spiritually, and their message doesn't bear much scrutiny. apart from their apparent proclivity to violence, i didn't see that much to be scared about, and marches can be properly policed to contain and minimise violence without the need for bans.
as a further example, there was a huge fuss and similar calls for banishment when bnp leader nick griffin was invited to appear on the bbc's 'question time' programme. the bnp used the controversy to great effect, presenting themselves as ordinary people concerned about the rise of islamic fundamentalism, who were being victimised by a system too pre-occupied by human rights and so obsessed by political correctness that sharia law might suddenly engulf the country. rubbish of course, but beguilingly resonant with the right-wing tabloid press, and a serious danger to all who really care about genuine human rights at a time when our corporate rulers are trying to expand their containment and control over us. in the event, nick griffin appeared on the programme, and ended up making such a dick-head of himself that the interest in the bnp dropped dramatically after the show. so i can't help wondering whether the outcry had actually ended up being a shot in the foot for the libertarian sector.
the police already have ample public order powers to proscribe routes, durations, and even numbers of marchers, and these powers are often abused to curtail legitimate protest. let's not let the clowns of the far right lead us into a trap where we call for our own rights to be further curtailed. however unsavoury, let us continue to hope that open debate, the power of peaceful numbers, and a message of tolerance and inclusivity will always win over the majority of the public, and let's allow the hatred, unattractiveness, and the inconsistent logic of their movement to burn out with the oxygen of publicity, challenged at every step, but not persecuted, banned, or met with aggressive violence as all these approaches, i believe, will come back to bite us.
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